January 2009, Interview with Rosa Martinez

January 2009, Interview with Rosa Martinez
Anish Kapoor. Islamic Mirror. Installation details and views in Sharq al-Andalus Hall at Santa Clara Museum, Murcia Photos: Jose Luis Montero
Rosa Martinez, Director of the 51st Venice Biennale (2005), Chief Curator of the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (2004-2007) and owner of long list of highly esteemed curatorial positions is leading the new exciting program, Projects for Interventions of Public Space. The inaugural artist for Martinez’s current project is the internationally renowned and UK based, Anish Kapoor, who has been one of the nation’s most celebrated contemporary sculptors. In 1990, he represented the UK at the Venice Biennale’s Giardini and won the coveted Turner prize in 1991, moreover, Kapoor has been the focus for numerous significant exhibitions at the Tate Modern (London), Hayward Gallery (London), Guggenheim (Bilbao and Venice) and many others. On November 25 2008, Kapoor and Martinez will launch the artist’s new work, Islamic Mirror (2008), along with the curator’s latest project, Interventions of Public Space, at the Las Claras Convent in Murcia, Spain. Veronica Tello discusses these innovations with Martinez. 

Veronica Tello: How has it been working with Anish Kapoor for the Projects for Interventions of Public Space? How did this working relationship and project come about? 
Rosa Martinez: Anish Kapoor is an extremely busy artist but a very precise one. I had the chance to experience this when three of his works were included in the exhibition Center of Gravity that I curated in 2004 for the international opening of Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. Anish is continuously involved in many and very relevant projects and in every occasion he knows the best path to take. We started a dialogue about meaning and specificity, about outdoors and indoor interventions, and at a certain moment he just proposed the exact piece for the right context in Murcia. An “Islamic Mirror” would be installed in the major hall of an old Islamic Palace, which is now used as a public museum, currently located inside a Christian Monastery. It was a joy when I felt the meaningful conjunction between the artwork and the place. Instead of identifying public art as art in the street, Anish believes art becomes public when the spectator interprets it. I also believe “public space” can be the space of historic condensation, sheltered and regulated by public institutions that is converted into cultural heritage for individual and collective use, reflection and enjoyment. So it is an excellent matching of desire and necessity. 
VT: Can you tell me about the region and context, Sharq al-Andalus Hall at Las Claras Convent, Murcia, wherein Anish Kapoor’s Islamic Mirror will be exhibited?  
RM: Murcia is an autonomous region at the South East of Spain. Its economy depends on tourism and agriculture, mainly. The desire of its government authorities to project the region internationally directed them towards the idea of organizing a series of public art projects. When they called me, it was agreed that Anish Kapoor would be a wonderful artist to begin with. When I saw the Monastery of Las Claras I was fascinated with the possibility of connecting contemporary art with a wealth of diverse cultural traditions. The chance of discovering the transversal relations between the Christian mysticism of cloistered nuns of the site, the Sufi poetics of Ibn Arabí (a mystic especially significant here given his birth in Murcia) and the conceptions of beauty and spirituality embodied in the contemporary art works by Kapoor was a wonderful challenge. A shared ground base unites the spiritual research over and beyond the formal differences and rituals that might separate religious beliefs, scientific and technological research, and aesthetic explorations.  

VT: Islamic Mirror is part of Intervention of Public Space for which you are Artistic Director and which will present a series of public art works: can you tell me more about your role and ambitions for the program? 
RM: I am a strong defender of the idea of the expanded field of art, and I have always enjoyed artworks going out of the sacred and protected museum walls. I already showed that during the 5th International Istanbul Biennial in 1997, when a lot of historical and civil places were offered to the participating artists. The Yerebatan Cistern, the Hagia Irene Church, the Maiden´s Tower in the middle of the Bosphorus and the International Ataturk airport were used as venues. Santa Fe in New Mexico or Limerick in Ireland where other contexts where art invaded the city and had a rich dialogue with its history and everyday life. Those were big and ambitious projects. Now in Murcia the scale is smaller and we will do only one project per year. But as Anish himself recalls: “Scale is a question of meaning and not of size”. And I believe the condensation of beauty and content we have achieved is very strong. 

VT: Within your curatorial practice you have often sought to challenge spectators, your exhibitions have been politically provocative, you do not tend to present ‘easy’ art. With this in mind, how would you interpret the role of art within public space?  
RM: I am looking for the awakening of consciousness and for a critical understanding of reality: internal and external and also, individual and social. Art has to propose a relevant interpretation and a poetic and ideological transformation for the spectators. As a curator I am also extremely interested in creating a pleasurable and beautiful grammar for the exhibition display. I am looking for conjunctions and disjunctions between the space and the works. To me, the exhibitions I have curated might be relevant and touching but not provocative. The provocation is out there, in the real world.
VT: In line with Kapoor’s most recent works, Islamic Mirror is a circular concave mirror measuring 2.4 metres in diameter and weighing approximately 80 kilograms Needless to say, it is an ambitious work. Situated within the context of Las Claras, visitors will see themselves in multiple images, yet the mirror will never reflect the details of the convent life. The work seems to create a beautiful and radical shift and rupture in how we experience the religious space - abstracting it, yet involving this abstraction for the purpose of exploiting its architectonic and aesthetic potential. Do you agree? 
RM: You are totally right. The placement of the work creates a visual and material space through which spectators are included in the piece. When they see their own image in the mirror, at the same time globally inversed and multiplied in positive fragments, they can live a unique aesthetic experience. They might feel they are a temporary epicentre of the cosmos.  
VT: There is a catalogue that accompanies Kapoor’s exhibition. It comprises various images of the production of Islamic Mirror, showing Kapoor building the artwork in Madrid, the details of the computerized calculations made in Japan and documentations of the artwork’s installation in Las Clara’s convent. Clearly, there is an emphasis on process, and the mechanics and materiality of the work – rather than just a focus on the finished product and its exhibition.  It seems to me that the idea of a public intervention in space is being intertwined with unveiling the process of constructing the work, so as not to not mystify the artist and artwork? Does this process bring the public, the artist and the work closer together? 
RM: What we call spirituality, sublime feelings or aesthetic pleasure, is always born out from a material and sensorial experience. So for me it is very important to make clear where the “magic” or “mysterious” comes from, how meaning is constructed. I think this allows the spectators to be aware of how linguistic and poetic innovation can help to change us. In the Kapoor catalogue the process of constructing and installing the Islamic Mirror at Sala Sharq al-Andalus, coexists with the inclusion of other narratives: a poem by Ibn Arabí and a legend on the small church of San Baudelio in Soria, Spain. The whole book deals with the idea of necessary and meaningful encounters between religion, science, technology, architecture and art. All of them are fundamental ways to think over the meaning of our being in this world. And, the research points toward love as being one of the major forces for creation and positive transformation. 

VT: What else are you working on, or would like to work on in the future? RM: The last decade was for me an incredible route through some of the most important international biennials: from Istanbul to Santa Fe; from Limerick to Pusan in Korea; from Venice to Sao Paulo or Moscow. I experienced the speed and the hybridisations between locality and internationality, and acting in such places was a wonderful process for experimenting and learning on how art can help creating a transnational utopia. For the next decade I would like to put the accent on very meaningful projects, where content and not size is the most important value. I am open to a new, slower and deeper becoming.  

Sharq al-Andalus Hall at Las Claras Convent, Murcia
November 25th 2008 – February 10th 2009 
Project for Interventions in Public Space

Artistic Director, Rosa Martinez 

whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Veronica Tello

Veronica Tello is currently completing her MA at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis examines the intersections of art and politics.

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